US Presses Seoul to Cut Iranian Oil

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A senior U.S. official urged Korea to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran, Tuesday, as part of a U.S.-led sanctions campaign over Tehran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, saying Washington would work closely to minimize adverse effects on the local economy.

The stance was relayed by Robert Einhorn, U.S. special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, during talks with foreign ministry officials here. Seoul responded in a statement that it would cooperate but that “more discussions with the U.S. were needed."

Einhorn’s three-day visit, which ends today, came amid growing tensions in the Middle East after President Barack Obama last month signed a bill imposing tough penalties on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank.

“We are urging all of our partners to help us, work with us to increase pressure on the government of Iran to negotiate,” Einhorn said during the talks. "We are urging them to reduce their purchases of crude oil from Iran and to unwind their financial dealings with the central bank of Iran.”

The envoy, however, stressed, "We want to do this while being very sensitive to the economic interests of our close allies” such as South Korea and that he was confident the sides could “do it without the adverse effects that I know many in South Korea are concerned about."

The campaign has raised concerns in Korea which imports nearly 10 percent of its crude oil from the Middle Eastern country, a figure that has increased recently. The South deals with Iran's central bank to pay for the shipments.

An official said on condition of anonymity that Seoul was making efforts to gradually reduce the oil imports but that differences remained over the level of the possible reduction.

Underscoring the significance of the toughened measures, Einhorn tied the allies’ cooperative efforts over Iran to those on denuclearizing North Korea.

"I think progress in one will help us achieve progress in another," he said. "That's why it is so important that our two governments work closely together on this Iran problem."